A Need for Forgiveness – For ourselves and others
Beth Henricks – May 28th 2017
A Mother’s Reckoning – Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, Sue Klebold
Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr
April 20th 1999 is a day that will never be forgotten in our history. That morning at 11:19 a.m., two young men named Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked onto their high school campus, Columbine High in Littleton Colorado with bombs and guns and killed 12 students and 1 teacher, injured 24 others and then killed themselves. Their intention that morning was significantly worse than what occurred as the bombs they made did not go off. Their intent was to blow up the school.
Most of us remember that day with horror as we watched events unfold on television for days and tried to understand what happened and how to make sense of it. This was the first significant school shooting in our history. There was lots of speculation about the motives of Eric and Dylan, their families, home life and school life. I remember wanting to get answers that made sense like they were abused as children, had abusive parents, something in their background that would somehow explain this tragedy.
We wanted to blame someone for this act and since Eric and Dylan killed themselves, we went after their parents. How could Dylan and Eric’s parents not have known what they were planning? How could they have been so clueless? What in the upbringing of these two young men caused them to carry out this deadly attack?
I do remember at the time thinking how awful life must be for those parents. Not only did they lose their child, they had to live with the horror of what they did to others. How could you ever go on in life with this kind of baggage?
I was in the car two weeks ago and heard Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother interviewed on a radio show. I was fascinated with her story and immediately got her book, A Mother’s Reckoning Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. Her story is heartbreaking. She and her husband went into hiding after the incident and hoped that they would die. This tragedy stripped away her own identity as she only became the mother of a killer. And it showed to herself how tied up she had been with ego. Sue had focused on wanting to be liked and a respected member of the community. She had taken pride in her sons and their family. After the tragedy, she had no respect and was considered the worst mother on earth. All parents have regrets, but when a child commits murder/suicide the guilt and second guessing are constant intolerable companions.
It turned out that Dylan was severely depressed with a perfectionist streak that made him the perfect counterpoint to Eric who really fit the description of a psychopath. Sue did not recognize the signs of Dylan’s depression thinking his behavior was typical of teenagers.
Over the last 17 years, Sue and her husband had to file bankruptcy, they divorced and Sue got breast cancer. It has taken years for Sue to put her life back together. One of her friends asked the question – Can you ever forgive Dylan for what he did? Her response to this question was forgive Dylan? My work is to forgive myself. She felt that she was the one that let Dylan down. A murder-suicide is unthinkable. Sue felt that she had failed to protect Dylan from himself and everyone he killed.
Sue had overwhelming negative feelings about herself. She had raised a murderer without knowing it, a person with such a faulty moral compass that he’d committed an atrocity. She had been a fool to not see what was going on.
Sue has spent years coming to the point of forgiving herself. She has finally realized that it was Dylan’s pathological behavior that caused this and not hers. She has committed her life to working for suicide prevention and speaking out on mental health issues of young people. And she has experienced forgiveness from some of the victims’ families. Forgiveness at this level is probably the greatest act of love there can be.
Forgiveness – forgiving ourselves can be one of the hardest things to do because we have to embrace our grief and confront our shame. We do not feel worthy of God’s love. Henri Nouwen says “Self rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved”. Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.” God’s enormous love for us is present as we are right now. In our brokenness, our shame, our ego, our pride. God’s love is not contingent on us making some changes for the better (although that could make life better for ourselves). We are God’s beloved as we are today.
Brene Brown, the scholar, author and public speaker says that “the death or ending that forgiveness necessitates comes in many shapes and forms. We may need to bury our expectations or dreams. We may need to relinquish the power that comes with “being right” or put to rest the idea that we can do what’s in our hearts and still retain the support or approval of others. Whatever it is, it all has to go. It isn’t good enough to box it up and set it aside. It has to die. It has to be grieved. That is a high price indeed. Sometimes it’s just too much.”
When we let go of this pain and truly forgive ourselves we are experiencing one of the greatest acts of self- love that we can ever do. Jesus gives us two commandments –that we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. We can’t love our neighbor if we don’t love ourselves. We can’t offer forgiveness for those who have hurt us, until we forgive ourselves of hurt and shame.
If I can accept this idea of forgiveness for myself, how then can I show forgiveness time and again to others? Can I really forgive others who have done terrible things or deeply hurt me? Could I forgive someone like Dylan and Eric if my child were one of their victims? How can we forgive anyone who has abused us? I love this quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu – “To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: The depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.
He goes on to say that “when I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive, then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person, too.”
Forgiveness is not forgetting or walking away from accountability or condoning a hurtful act; it’s the process of taking back and healing our lives so we can truly live.
As Eric read in our scripture today, Jesus commands us to offer forgiveness not just 7 times but 70 times 7. I think this means that we must have a heart of forgiveness at all times. Jesus is calling us to spiritual maturity in order to forgive our mistakes and others. And Jesus commands us to do this because he knows that this is how we will experience healing within ourselves. That we won’t let resentment and anger chip away at our core. Forgiveness is the deepest expression of love. Richard Rohr, the Catholic priest says “ You can let go of everyone who hurt you, your former spouse, the boss who fired you, the church, or even God. You have no interest in carrying around negative baggage. Wisdom emerges when you can see everything, you eliminate none of it, and you include all as important training. Finally, everything belongs. You are eventually able to say, from some larger place that may surprise you, “It is what it is” and “Even the ‘bad’ was good.”
Friends, who do you need to forgive today? Do you need to forgive yourself? Do you need to forgive a family member? A work colleague? A friend? Maybe it is someone that isn’t even alive but still has a hold on you. As we enter our time of unprogrammed worship I pray that we will enter deeply without ourselves to truly examine our sense of forgiveness. If God is speaking to you directly please hold this in your heart. If God asks you to share this message with all of us please be obedient and stand up and share with all of us.